Feb. 18, 2016
COLUMBIA, S.C. — The 124th season of South Carolina baseball begins on Friday as the Gamecocks host Albany for a three-game series. First pitch on Opening Day is 4 p.m. at Founders Park with Saturday’s game at 2 p.m. and Sunday’s series finale at 1:30 p.m.
Midweek contests follow on Tuesday vs. Appalachian State and Wednesday vs. Winthrop. Both those contests are at 4 p.m. as well.
All five games will be streamed live on SEC Network Plus and can be heard on the Gamecock Radio Network.
A NEW NAME
Founders Federal Credit Union and the University of South Carolina announced a partnership awarding naming rights of Carolina Stadium to Founders Federal Credit Union. Carolina Stadium officially became Founders Park on October 22, 2015.
Unveiled in 2009, the $35-plus million facility has a capacity of 8,242 fans and is the crown jewel among baseball stadiums across the nations. South Carolina has ranked among the top three in the nation in total attendance in five consecutive years, including a mark of 250,057 last season as well as a season-high 6,049 season tickets sold last year.
Founders Park will be officially dedicated on Saturday, April 23 before game two of the Missouri series.
Please be aware on game day entrance via car to Williams, Catawba and Wheat Streets will be closed to the public and is accessible only by a valid parking pass.
For Opening Day on Feb. 19 and for the weekday games beginning at 4:00 PM (Feb.19; Feb. 23, Feb 24 and Feb. 26) parking in the business lots will be curtailed based on the specific parking lots. Patrons with passes to park in lots 6, 7, 9 and 10 will be relocated to Lot 1 on Williams and Wheat Sts.
We encourage visitors to use public parking lots illustrated on the parking map. The cost is $5/$10 per vehicle. Fans can also park for free at Capital City Baseball Stadium and the Colonial Life arena and ride the shuttles for $3.00 round trip to and from the parking lots. We strongly recommend that fans use the Capital City Shuttle over the CLA shuttle for the convenience, spacious parking and less congestion.
Visitors who need handicap parking should park at the Capital City Baseball Stadium lot and ride the handicapped shuttle to the baseball stadium for $3.00
Please see link for additional information.
For the 2016 baseball season, the baseball shuttle will be operational at the Capital City Baseball Stadium and in Lot D of the Colonial Life Area parking lot. We strongly recommend that fans use the baseball shuttle from Capital City to Founders Park over the CLA shuttle for the convenience, spacious parking (800 spaces) and less congestion than at the arena. Please remember that at the arena shuttle, parking will be limited to 50 to 100 spaces because of the student demand for parking in this area. There is a high student demand Monday through Thursday that lasts until 7 p.m. because of classes. For GPS purposes, the address for Capital City Stadium is 300 Assembly St., Columbia, SC 29201.
PROBABLE PITCHING ROTATION
South Carolina – Clarke Schmidt (So. RHP)
Albany – Stephen Woods (Jr. RHP)
South Carolina – Braden Webb (Fr. RHP)
Albany – Marcus Failing (Jr. LHP)
South Carolina – Taylor Widener (Jr. RHP)
Albany – Ryan Stinar (Jr. RHP)
South Carolina is ranked in three preseason publications. The Gamecocks are No. 17 by D1Baseball, No. 23 in the USA TODAY coaches poll and No. 35 by Collegiate Baseball.
South Carolina is 84-39 on Opening Day in school history.
SCHMIDT GETS THE OPENING DAY NOD
South Carolina sophomore right-hander Clarke Schmidt will get the ball on Opening Day for the Gamecocks. Schmidt made 18 appearances with 10 starts last year and went 2-2 with a 4.81 ERA in 58.0 innings. He struck out 55 and walked 20. He is rated the No. 40 best college prospect in the nation for the 2017 MLB Draft by D1Baseball.
Schmidt is the first right-hander since Blake Cooper in 2010 to draw the Opening Day start for the Gamecocks.
South Carolina is 3-0 vs. Albany in school history. The two schools met previously in 2013 in a three-game series in Columbia. The series featured a no-hitter for the Gamecocks in game one of a doubleheader on Sunday, Feb. 24, a 14-1 win. Colby Holmes, Forrest Koumas and Josh Knab combined for the no-hitter, the last time the Gamecocks have hurled a no-hitter. South Carolina won the other two contests 8-3 and 6-4.
RECRUITING CLASS RANKED NO. 2 IN THE NATION
South Carolina’s newcomers have been ranked the No. 2 recruiting class in the country by Collegiate Baseball. This year’s crop features eight players previously selected in the MLB Draft.
The Gamecocks had 29 players in the fall semester with a GPA of 3.0 or better.
A LOOK CLOSER AT THIS YEAR’S SCHEDULE
South Carolina’s schedule this year includes 35 home games at Founders Park.
South Carolina and Clemson will meet in a unique three-game setting for a seventh consecutive year. The series opens in Columbia on Friday, Mar. 4 vs. Clemson with first pitch set for 7 p.m. The series shifts to the Reedy River Rivalry game at Fluor Field, home of the Greenville Drive, a minor league affiliate of the Boston Red Sox, on Saturday, and concludes in Clemson on Sunday afternoon.
The Gamecocks will play three times at Fluor Field with contests vs. USC Upstate (March 15) and Furman (April 20) as well. In addition, the Gamecocks will also face North Carolina on April 12 at BB&T Ballpark, home of the Charlotte Knights, a minor league affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.
Additional in-state contests for the Gamecocks include Charleston Southern, Coastal Carolina, College of Charleston, Presbyterian, The Citadel, Winthrop and Wofford. Other non-conference opponents include Appalachian State, Penn State and Davidson.
South Carolina’s 30-game SEC slate begins Friday, Mar. 18, with Carolina hosting Arkansas. South Carolina also hosts Tennessee (April 8-10), Missouri (April 22-24), Florida (April 29-May 1) and Texas A&M (May 13-15). SEC three-game series opponents on the road are Ole Miss (Mar. 24-26), Vanderbilt (Mar. 31-April 2), Georgia (April 15-17), Kentucky (May 6-8) and Alabama (May 19-21).
South Carolina has ranked among the top three in the nation in total attendance in five consecutive years including a mark of 250,057 last season.
D1Baseball.com recently recognized several South Carolina players among the top prospects in the nation for the 2016, 2017 and MLB Drafts. This year’s top 300 includes RHP Wil Crowe (No. 38), RHP Braden Webb (No. 66), OF Dom Thompson-Williams (NO. 94), RHP Taylor Widener (No. 197) and RHP Matt Vogel (No. 287). The 2017 top 100 list included 1B/LHP Alex Destino (No. 24), RHP Clarke Schmidt (No. 40) and RHP Brandon Murray (No. 73). The 2018 top 100 freshman list features OF Brandon McIlwain (No. 5), RHP Braden Webb (No. 29), INF LT Tolbert (No. 39) and C Chris Cullen (No. 85).
Excitement and intrigue surround South Carolina as the Gamecocks near the start of the 2016 baseball season. A renewed energy encompasses Founders Park and with it the drive of the players and staff to compete among the best in the nation.
That desire and eagerness started in the fall and as the calendar turns to the spring, head coach Chad Holbrook is looking forward to seeing his full team on the field. As he assesses this year’s squad, there are strengths and there are pieces to still figure out before Opening Day on February 19.
“I’m anxious for (the spring) to get here and to get our entire team out there all together at the same time and healthy,” said Holbrook. “There are a lot of unknowns because we had a fall in which a number of our more talented players were injured.”
Injuries to top returnees like junior right-hander Taylor Widener and junior outfielder Gene Cone as well as standout newcomers in junior college transfer outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams and freshman catcher Chris Cullen were the most notable absences on the field. All four return healthy for the spring though and are ready to fight for positions and roles on this year’s team.
Despite the injuries, Holbrook was excited with a number of things in the fall. Depth and versatility appear to be strengths, both from a position standpoint and on the mound. The Gamecocks have 23 players back from last year’s team to go along with a recruiting class that was ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation and a consensus top-15 group.
“The energy the new guys bring, that certainly excites me about the makeup of the team,” noted Holbrook. “I’m hopeful that our players, from an individual standpoint, have put the team in front of themselves. They showed great characteristics of having great camaraderie. There certainly was a sense of team as we went through the fall. Everyone has great chemistry in the fall. You can’t lose a game and everyone has a chance to play. The bond that we have will be tested once the season starts, but I think we have the right type of character in our locker room to stay strong in that regard. I think that stood out amongst our team in the fall. We went through some difficult times around here in the fall. I feel good where we are from a character standpoint.”
IN THE FIELD
Leading the way in the infield is a pair of seniors, DC Arendas and Marcus Mooney. The dynamic duo has combined for 214 games played and 187 career starts and give the Gamecocks experience and leadership up the middle.
“When you look at DC and you look at Marcus, they have been in some very big games and very big situations,” noted Holbrook. “They have made some defensive plays in (key) situations and that experience makes (our coaching staff) very comfortable. Our defense can help win us some games.”
It is not just Arendas and Mooney though. The Gamecocks have a bevy of talented players that could factor into this year’s infield and showed great maturity throughout the offseason. Sophomore infielder Jonah Bride comes into the Gamecock program after a year at Neosho Junior College where he set the single-season school record for hits with 96 and ranked third in the NJCAA in RBI with 93 on his way to second-team NJCAA All-America honors. Bride rode that wave into a great fall and was one of the team’s top players during scrimmages. Both he and sophomore Madison Stokes have seen time at third base, but could also factor into the other three infield spots. The same applies for freshman LT Tolbert, who caught eyes with his play in the field and at the plate during fall scrimmages.
“(DC and Marcus) are not the only two,” said Holbrook. “Jonah Bride is a junior college kid with experience and played great defense in the fall. Madison Stokes is a much-improved defensive player. LT Tolbert brings something to the table that maybe we lacked – an edge, sense of toughness and the ability to play all four infield positions. I think we are versatile in the infield. They are all good infielders. We have to make sure we put the right guys in the right spots. Because they are all equal defensively, the guys that separate themselves offensively are going to be the ones that play every day.”
The Gamecocks do have to replace All-America first baseman Kyle Martin. Still, there are options for Holbrook and it mostly evolves around how he will use sophomore Alex Destino. Primarily a designated hitter last year, Destino could see time at first base this year as well as left field. He hit six homers and drove in 35 runs as a freshman and looks to improve on those numbers.
“I think who we put at first is going to be determined by where we put Alex Destino,” stated Holbrook. “He is going to be in there offensively. We can put him at left, first, DH him, those are questions I’m going to have to answer between now and Opening Day.”
“I can put four shortstops on the infield and feel very good about it,” added Holbrook. “I can put Jonah at first, LT Tolbert at first, Madison Stokes could go over there. That group is going to have to be open-minded, team-minded guys. They may not play the position they want to play, but they may have to play the position that helps the team. I have a number of options over there.”
Depth is also noticeable in the outfield. Junior Gene Cone returns after 57 starts last year along with sophomore Clark Scolamiero, who came on late in the spring of 2015 and played in 36 games. They both gained valuable experience as well over the summer and played well in the Coastal Plain League for their respective teams.
Both returnees will be pushed by a gifted group of newcomers. Junior outfielder Dom Thompson-Williams was one of the top junior college transfers in the country. He is expected to make an immediate impact and will vie for a starting spot in all three outfield positions. True freshmen Danny Blair, TJ Hopkins and Brandon McIlwain bring athleticism and speed to the table. Redshirt freshman Jared Williams has that litheness and is an option as well.
“Our outfielders are very athletic with strong throwing arms,” acknowledged Holbrook. “They can offensively steal you a base and defensively run a ball down in the gap.”
The Gamecocks are excited with the choices behind the plate. Sophomore Hunter Taylor returns with a year of experience under the belt and the addition of junior college transfer John Jones and highly-touted freshman Chris Cullen gives the Gamecocks a talented trio.
Taylor’s physical right-handed bat could find him in the middle of the lineup. Jones has a great approach at the plate and his ability to be a switch-hitter makes him a possibility in the lineup anytime. Despite an injury in the fall, Cullen appears to be 100 percent and ready for the spring.
“One of the things that stood out in the fall was our catchers, defensively, they were terrific,” said Holbrook. “Jones and Taylor caught every inning, every pitch, of the entire fall because of Cullen’s injury. You add Cullen to the mix and I feel very good about that position as we head into the season.”
One of the noticeable strengths in the fall was the pitching staff. Although the team has to replace junior left-hander Jack Wynkoop, who was selected in the sixth round of the 2015 MLB Draft, Coach Holbrook returns significant arms and he is excited with the prospects of the staff for the 2016 season.
“Our pitchers threw strikes all fall long,” stated Holbrook. “Our pitchers probably had the upper hand on our hitters the entire fall. That makes me feel good about our pitching staff heading into the spring. What stood out among those guys is the depth, they threw strikes, worked ahead, had great success and it is just not one or two guys, it is the entire pitching staff. Sitting here (before spring practice) I feel good about, not only the talent level of our pitching staff, but the depth.”
Sophomore right-hander Clarke Schmidt appears ready to step into the No. 1 starter role for the 2016 season. As a freshman, Schmidt saw significant action with 10 starts and 58.0 innings pitched. His elevation over the summer and into the fall has put him in position as one of the team’s top starters.
Freshman right-hander Braden Webb has the potential as well. The talented flame thrower from Owasso, Okla. was a highly-sought after recruit and has the ability to be a top draft pick in the future.
Expectations are a high for a slew of sophomores and juniors that have seen action and are looking to have their best seasons to date. Junior right-hander Taylor Widener saved nine games last year and pitched well in three starts. He is 100 percent healthy and active for the spring. Junior left-hander Josh Reagan and junior right-hander Reed Scott look to get significant innings again and were stellar in the fall. Right-handers Tyler Haswell and Matt Vogel and left-handers John Parke and Vince Fiori all are options. Add to the mix sophomore right-handers Tyler Johnson, Brandon Murray and Canaan Cropper, hard-throwers with the ability to throw several pitches. The roles are yet to be defined but Holbrook is anxious to see players with stripes on their sleeves making that next step.
“The improvement of our upper classmen (on the mound) is going to be (a) determining factor on what type of baseball season we have this year,” said Holbrook. “I think a number of our guys have improved. Not just Clarke Schmidt. Brandon Murray is much improved and his command is better. Josh Reagan is now not an 82-84 mph guy, but an 86-88 mph guy and that makes that big league changeup much better. He has a chance to be a difference maker for us. He is much improved. Reed Scott is much improved, velocity is better. Guys like Tyler Haswell, Matt Vogel, John Parke, they have been around the block in our program, haven’t had much success individually but they are much better then when they got here. Collectively, that improvement from all those guys will ultimately be the determining factor of what type of team we have. Certainly they showed great improvement in the fall but they have to carry that into the spring as we get closer to the Opening Day.”
Junior college transfers Colie Bowers and Colton Provey bring experience also. Bowers led USC Sumter to the 2015 NJCAA World Series, as did Provey with Walters State. Bowers was an honorable mention NJCAA All-American last year going 9-2 with a 2.14 ERA in 9.2 innings with 97 strikeouts. Provey made 27 relief appearances, ranked tied for sixth in the NJCAA with 10 saves and went 6-1 with a 2.42 ERA with 62 strikeouts in 48.2 innings.
Talent and ability is available for the Gamecocks on the mound. Defining the roles will be essential, and as Holbrook noted, on-going.
“We have a number of guys that we feel comfortable putting out there in a big situation,” stated Holbrook. “But who is going to take the bull by the horn and say, `I’m the closer.’ I have five names I could tell you right now that I feel good about the ability of being a closer. But who is going to be that guy? Those are questions we are going to have to answer as we go into practice January and as we get ready for Opening Day. Those roles may evolve and change as we get closer to SEC play.”